Boston College has undergone an extensive amount of transformations over the last 35 years. What was once a mediocre regional college comprised mostly of Irish-Catholics from the Northeast has been transformed over the last few decades into a world-class national research university that draws students from all around the world. Paul Chebator, who will be stepping down from his post as the Dean of Students at the end of this academic year after 34 years at the University, has seen many of the changes take place from his vantage point in that office.
Chebator came to BC as an assistant dean in the office after working at Bunker Hill Community College, which he described as “a good place to cut [one’s] teeth.” He said that Bunker Hill had a completely different environment than BC-students went there for only two years. The student body was diverse and varied, and a fair percentage of students were older than he was.
“At BC, it is a very different student body [than Bunker Hill],” Chebator said. “It had-and still does have-a very traditional student body. Most are in a very different place financially. It was nice to come to a place where I could work with people for four years.”
The office at which Chebator arrived in 1980 had only four employees and was run by Rev. Edward J. Hanrahan, S.J., who had served in that role since the office was created in 1967. That office was responsible for student behavior, off-campus students, alcohol and drug education, and students in crisis.
“Over the years, the office morphed,” Chebator said. “At one point, if you go back eight or 10 years ago, the office had grown to 22 people and had responsibilities that were much broader than that. Since then, it has been scaled down again, so it is literally back to what it was when I first came here.”
After serving for seven years as an assistant dean, Chebator was promoted to associate dean. He served two stints as acting Dean of Students in the last 15 years before being appointed to the position permanently.
One of the aspects of BC that Chebator said remained consistent throughout his entire time was the collegiality that he found at the University. In a number of his roles in the Dean of Student’s Office, Chebator has been responsible for crisis management. In that capacity, he said that the atmosphere he has seen at BC is very impressive.
“I know that, at 3 a.m. in the morning, if there is a crisis on campus I can pick up the phone and get virtually anything I need,” Chebator said. “Whether I need dining services to open up a dining hall because kids have been burnt out of a building or whether we need six staff psychologists on campus to help process a situation regarding a tragedy, or call the chief of police at home, I get 100 percent cooperation and response. And that’s what’s really been a hallmark-and one of the reasons that I’ve stayed here-is that sense of collegiality that seems to be ingrained in the culture.”
Over the course of his many years at BC, Chebator came back to a few experiences that have continually been the most rewarding. He said that the gratitude of former students-whether at graduation or when returning to BC years afterward-was something that gave his job meaning and purpose to his job.
For the last 10 years, he has taught a section of Courage to Know-a class meant to help freshmen transition into college and find their bearings at BC. This opportunity to work with students at the beginning of their college experience in a classroom setting was another aspect of his work that Chebator cited as personally satisfying.
Within his office, Chebator has overseen a number of changes that have been transformative in the extent and manner of its operations. One program that he started is the Sexual Assault Network (SANet), which is now run by the Women’s Resource Center.
“It was a recognition, maybe 25 years ago, that we needed to do something more for victims of sexual assault,” Chebator said. “We created that program and trained adults to respond 24 hours a day on campus, should there be sexual assault, to help the survivor.”
Another project of Chebator’s creation is the case meeting, which is a weekly gathering of relevant individuals-such as representatives from BCPD, counseling services, and the DSO-to discuss students on their radar who may be having difficulties, and to develop a plan to help those students.
“These are students who may be having emotional issues, may be hospitalized,” Chebator said. “We began that program here 25 years ago and now it is actually being mandated by the federal government for universities after Virginia Tech. Because, what happened in a situation in Virginia Tech, is that a number of people were having different interactions with the student but no one was talking about it.”
Across all of his time at BC, Chebator said that any student deaths were unquestionably the most challenging cases with which he has had to deal.
He found that the effects of them were particularly difficult to handle because of the closeness of the BC community. In addition to being concerned with providing resources for students, Chebator also said that worrying about the impact on the staff was a further complicating factor.
Considering his career at BC, Chebator said that, recently, there have been numerous catalysts for reflection. Concerned with the health of several friends, he said that he plans on moving into the next phase in his life.
He plans on spending the next fall in Italy with his wife-Mer Zovko, an assistant director in the Student Programs Office who will also be retiring at the end of this year-and staying with some Italian friends there before returning to live in Vermont, volunteering, and possibly teaching a once-a-week section of Courage to Know.*
Chebator is not involved with the search for the new dean, which he said the office of the Vice President for Student Affairs is handling with a national search.
An earlier version of this article misstated that Chebator would be visiting Italy with friends next fall, rather than planning to visit with his wife and stay with friends.